2 Cor. 1:12 is an interesting verse to use as a test of English literary quality and clarity in translations:
1. For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.
2. Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.
3. Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.
4. For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
5. For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
6. For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with God-given sincerity and purity, not by fleshly wisdom but by God’s grace.
7. We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.
8. For our reason for confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that with pure motives and sincerity which are from God – not by human wisdom but by the grace of God – we conducted ourselves in the world, and all the more toward you.
9. We are proud that our conscience assures us that our lives in this world, and especially our relations with you, have been ruled by God-given frankness and sincerity, by the power of God’s grace and not by human wisdom.
10. We are proud that our conscience is clear. We are proud of the way that we have lived in this world. We have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity, especially toward you. It was not by human wisdom that we have lived but by God’s kindness.
11. We can be proud of our clear conscience. We have always lived honestly and sincerely, especially when we were with you. And we were guided by God’s wonderful kindness instead of by the wisdom of this world.
What do you think about the word phrasings in these translations? Can you understand each phrase? Can you read the verse once and understand its main point (a good test for textual coherence and cohesion)?
12 thoughts on “2 Cor. 1:12 – comparing versions”
When I was young my Mum told me it wasn’t nice to boast. And doesn’t pride go before a fall?
I initially misread “Fleshly wisdom” as “Fleshy Wisdom”; as a teenager my mates on occasion told me to think with my brain and not a certain other part of my anatomy, but I’m guessing that this is referring to something different…
Here’s another one:
Indeed, our main ground for satisfaction is this–Our conscience tells us that our conduct in the world, and still more in our relations with you, was marked by a purity of motive and a sincerity that were inspired by God, and was based, not on worldly policy, but on the help of God.
I can read all phrases from no. 7 on once and understand them immediately while the translations above make me look and think twice. This is due to the use of the word testimony which is tied in my brain to another context. This is most possible due to my own history of how I aquired the English language. No. 1 is more of a riddle for me without the other translations following. On the other hand I am German as quite a few times stated before. (Yes, Theophrastus, I know this does disqualify me from commenting on the matter at hand, but I still love to do so, so please be kind to me)
I also don’t like ‘boast’ but have nothing against ‘proud’ as ‘proud’ is least boasting 🙂 for me. This also makes no. 7 to 11 my favourites.
In no. 10 and 11 conducted is translated as have lived or were guided and I prefer this, too. It is easier to understand for me. And ‘fleshly wisdom’ just sounds ridiculous to me. But this mighty just be me again.
I am not able to comment on the literary quality, only which translation sounds smooth and nice to my foreign ears and that is no. 9. All in all no. 9 is my winner.
* Indeed, this is our boast, the testimony of our conscience: we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God—and all the more toward you.
* There is one thing that we are proud of, namely our conscientious conviction that we have always behaved towards everyone, and especially towards you, with that unalloyed holiness that comes from God, relying not on human reasoning but on the grace of God.
* There is one thing that we are proud of, our conscience assures us that in our dealings with our fellow-men, all in our dealings with you, our conduct has been governed by a devout and godly sincerity, by the grace of God and not by worldly wisdom.
I appreciate the point you’re making here. However, it seems like you’ve overlooked a very important question. Could the original audience have understood the main point of this verse after having read it (in Greek) only once? For this particular verse, you may answer yes or no. Regardless, I’m not willing to force my translations to be wonderfully coherent and cohesive in English, when in the original it may be intentionally (or, for that matter, unintentionally) shaded with some incoherency. I’m convinced that a good translation mimics and replicates the feel and impression left by the original. Therefore, until I can read the original in the same way the original audience would have read it (to whatever extent that is really possible), I am in no position to determine which of the above translations is best.
It is, however, interesting to compare the English like this. I was surprised by a few of the versions when I looked them up.
While I like the wording of most of the phrases above, the second one is my favorite.
3 and 7 are my favorite from the blind read.
I dont know if there is anything out there like this, but it would be fun to have a Bible Version Personality Test. Blind readings to discover the version that you find the best read…hehe.
How about – and this is a published translation:-
“There is one thing we are proud of: our conscience shows us that in our dealings with others, and above all in our dealings with you, our conduct has been governed by a devout and godly sincerity, by the grace of God and not by worldly wisdom.”
Apart from the colon, I’d regard that as fairly normal English. It’s also easy to read aloud. I’m not convinced that anything that includes ‘testimony’ is. I’d surmise that the normal non-Biblish word is ‘witness’. Even for ‘testifies’ I think ‘bears witness’ is probably less opaque.
I quite like 7. 9 reads all right on the page but doesn’t flow very well read aloud.
Are you going to let us in on the secret and tell us which they all are?
More important though, how has your treatment gone?
Selections 2,3, 7, 9, 10 and 11 are my choices for being easiest to understand in one reading. Selections 2 and 3 sound like a more traditional Bible translation, yet they avoid any unnatural English constructions. However, in English the word “boast” may have a more negative connotation then that intended by the original author.
Selections 7 and 9 are easy to understand in one reading and flow well with natural sounding English.
Selection 10 is easy enough to understand, but it feels much too choppy and looses points for style.
The versions that use the phrase “testimony of our conscience” loose me right away.I cannot easily understand the verse in one reading because I’m too busy trying to decode a phrase that is not a part of my normal English. I suspect that they are trying to retain the form of the Greek; but they have lost the meaning in English.
It would be nice to get more comments evaluating the different translation wordings (thank you to each one who took the time to do this exercise). But I know that some of you want to know what the versions are. So, if you haven’t yet evaluated the translation wordings and still wish to do so, don’t read any further in this comment …
For those who wish to know the versions used for this exercise they are:
For those of you who thought to include another translation wording, thank you. And please identify the version you quoted when you have time.
Of course, it should not matter which version is being quoted. Each wording of any translation should be evaluated on its own merits. Each translation will have better wordings in some verses and not so good wordings in others. An increased awareness of how any translation wording communicates can help result in better Bible versions.
My extract was from the REB.
R. Taylor asks:
“Could the original audience have understood the main point of this verse after having read it (in Greek) only once? [Is it] to be wonderfully coherent and cohesive in English, when in the original it may be intentionally (or, for that matter, unintentionally) shaded with some incoherency[?]”
The funny thing about R. Taylor’s important question here is that Paul himself seems to try to answer it with the very next verse. Maybe he’d already read what Peter had written about the difficulties of his writings (i.e., 2 Peter 3:15-16). At any rate, 2 Cor 1:13 is Paul reflecting on his own writing and his intention for his readers in Corinth to understand.
Οὐ γὰρ ἄλλα γράφομεν ὑμῖν, ἀλλ’ ἢ ἃ ἀναγινώσκετε ἢ καὶ ἐπιγινώσκετε, ἐλπίζω δὲ ὅτι [καὶ ?] ἕως τέλους ἐπιγνώσεσθε·
* We are not writing to you anything other than what you know for a fact or fully understand. I hope that you will understand completely.
Seems clear enough in Ann Nyland’s translation above.
Below is Nyland’s translation (of 2 Cor. 1:12) compared to the translation of another Greek classicist, Richmond Lattimore:
* This is our reason for being proud: our conscience testifies that we conduct ourselves openly and sincerely in the world, and especially towards you. We have not done this by the wisdom of the natural realm but by the favor of God.
* This is the cause of our pride, the testimony of our consciousness that we behaved in the world in the holiness and purity of God, not by fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and especially in relation to you.
2 Cor 1:12 —
Ἡ γὰρ καύχησις ἡμῶν αὕτη ἐστίν, τὸ μαρτύριον τῆς συνειδήσεως ἡμῶν, ὅτι ἐν ἁπλότητι καὶ εἰλικρινείᾳ [τοῦ] θεοῦ [καὶ] οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ σαρκικῇ ἀλλ’ ἐν χάριτι θεοῦ, ἀνεστράφημεν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, περισσοτέρως δὲ πρὸς ὑμᾶς.